Grand View:Sung Edition Rare Books
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Spreading the Faith: Fundraising to Print Buddhist Scriptures

Confucians in the Sung dynasty not only studied the traditional Classics, but many also dabbled and sometimes delved into Buddhist interests. The demand for Buddhist scriptures, known as sutras, suddenly rose, and many temples took the initiative of collecting alms and raising funds for woodblock printings. For example, on display here is “Sutra of the Fundamental Vows of the Jeweled Bodhisattva”, which was part of the “Tung-ch’an Teng-chüeh Monastery Edition” of the Tripitaka collection printed in the early years of the Yüan-feng era (1078-1085) of the Northern Sung. Successive abbots of this Ch’an Buddhist monastery collected funds from the public and gradually completed the printing of the Tripitaka. The carving was finally completed at the time of Emperor Hui-tsung’s birthday and hence given the title “Tripitaka of Ten-thousand Longevities of the Ch’ung-ning Reign”. It was also the first to use the sutra pleated-leaf format, which was adopted in the binding of later Tripitakas, indicating its influential role. Other single printings of sutras were mainly the result of Buddhist monks or followers collecting funds, for those donating to printing efforts were rewarded with the accumulation of merit for charitable and pious conduct. Since both donations for printing and reciting of texts represented merit for religious followers, the font type used in printings often was solemn and upright for a somewhat strong and heavy manner. The paper chosen was frequently pure and resilient in quality, being far superior to that used in ordinary printing. The handwriting of sutras was also another way of accumulating merit. Among the Sung editions of sutras on display here is a woodblock print edition of “The Lotus Sutra” that was originally handwritten by the literary great Su Shih. His surviving works are now rare, and even though this is a re-carved copy, it is nonetheless precious evidence of his calligraphy as well as the art of printing.

The Avatamsaka (Hua-yen) SutraSee larger image
The Avatamsaka (Hua-yen) Sutra
New translation by Siksananda (T’ang Dynasty)
Ch’un-hua era (990-994) Sung imprint by the Lung-hsing Temple in Hangchow with later additions and revisions

After the explanation in the last section (80) was engraved a text as a colophon to the sutra, from which we know that this was engraved between 990 and 1000, taking a total of eleven years to complete. The characters are natural and forceful, mostly in the manner of the famous T’ang calligrapher Yen Chen-ch’ing.

Sutra of the Fundamental Vows of the Jeweled BodhisattvaSee larger image
Sutra of the Fundamental Vows of the Jeweled Bodhisattva
Translated by Chu Fo-nien (Yao Ch’in Dynasty)
1091 Sung imprint by the Tung-ch’an Teng-chüeh Monastery of Fu-chou as part of the Tripitaka of Ten Thousand Longevities

Although this edition is a printing funded by Chang Jen-chieh of the Southern Sung, the original was the “Tripitaka of Ten-thousand Longevities of the Ch’ung-ning Reign” with the “nien 念” mark engraved in 1091 during the Northern Sung. This was the first time that the Chinese Tripitaka was engraved and printed, for which the Tung-ch’an Teng-chüeh Monastery raised funds. It is also the first time for the use of the sutra pleated-leaf mounting format, which became the model for binding Buddhist scriptures thereafter.

The Lotus SutraSee larger image
The Lotus Sutra
Translated by Kumarajiva (Yao Ch’in Dynasty) with discourse by the monk Tao-hsüan (T’ang Dynasty)
Sung imprint of a Su Shih handwritten edition

This is an engraved edition done in the calligraphy style of Su Shih, which is rare among surviving Sung editions. Each volume has a frontispiece illustration engraved with lines that are simple and elegantly unrefined. Not only are the Buddhist images quite stern, the scene of explaining the Buddhist Law appears as if before our eyes, reflecting the maturity of engraving techniques for illustration in the Sung dynasty.